Panama’s Casco Viejo: 3 Property Buying Tips

The old buildings gaze grandly over the deep-blue sea. Their facades mingle colonial, French and Art Deco styles, with ironwork balconies, walls painted powder-blue, yellow and terracotta, topped with red-tile roofs.

In the plaza, kids play tag, racing past a group of men playing chess in the fragrant shade of a jacaranda tree. The strains of jazz and salsa float past on the breeze. Small groups gather at restaurants and cafes, eating outdoors in the warm tropical evening.

This gem is Panama’s Casco Viejo (see a video tour of Casco Viejo here). It’s a little peninsula of land, packed with historic buildings. I’ve lived here for the last four years, and I love it. I could live anywhere (I work from home), but I chose the Casco. I like the bohemian, arty edge of this area…I enjoy the regular jazz, music, and art festivals…and I love the fact that it feels like a real neighborhood.

The Casco covers a small area. It’s easy and fun to find your way around here. But it’s not so easy to find your way around the Casco’s property market. Here are some tips for anyone considering buying here:

#1. Check the Price. The average price per square meter right now in the Casco is $2,200. But list prices vary from $1,750 to $3,700 a square meter. That’s because the Casco has two types of seller: Those that want or need to sell…and wishful thinkers. Don’t waste your time on the latter. They won’t negotiate, because they will wait in hope to get their unrealistic asking price.

See as many properties as you possibly can. It’s not hard in such a small place. That will give you a good idea of current market pricing, and what you get for your money. Check online sources that list properties from owners, brokers and developers. Ask your broker what properties sold recently, and how much they sold for. Don’t rely on older sales figures—average prices peaked here in 2007/2008, at $2,800 a square meter, and have since fallen back to around $2,200. So research, compare, and investigate before making an offer.

#2. Check the Building. Old buildings need a lot of maintenance, from the exposed stone walls and plasterwork, to the wooden doors and ironwork balconies. Even with newly renovated buildings, you should look for plumbing and wiring faults…poorly-installed kitchen and bathroom fittings…and leaking roofs. (In fact, I’ve yet to find a building in the Casco that doesn’t leak.) Ask the seller to guarantee that the property is in good repair when you buy, and have a strict timeframe—and penalties—for fault fixing.

#3. Check the Location. First, if you want to live in your property or rent it, stick to streets 1-10. They’re safe, and where you’ll find the nicest restaurants, cafes, and art galleries. Plaza-front and ocean-view properties are more desirable. Check noise levels, wherever you buy. The Casco is not quiet, and historic buildings don’t come with sound-proofing.

Editor’s note: Margaret Summerfield is a property expert who has scouted all over the Americas for Pathfinder, IL’s preferred real estate advertiser. Margaret will be one of the expert presenters at IL’s Live and Invest in Panama Seminar, April 13-16. She’ll give her analysis of the real estate market in Panama, identifying the current hot spots…and the future opportunities. Get the full details here.

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